Michael Jensen: The peace of Christmas

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We retell the story of the angels who heralded him with the chorus: “Peace on earth to those on whom God’s favour rests”.
 
Michael Jensen.

But, as the English author Francis Spufford writes: “Peace is not the norm; peace is rare.”
In 2017, we’ve been wondering whether we in Australia are within range of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s weapons, as his missiles have been flying over Japan.
We’ve had the unceasing round of terrorist attacks across the globe.
And we’ve been hoping that US President Donald Trump’s diplomacy by Twitter is not taking us to the brink of world conflict.
What’s more, we know bitter conflict all too well from more personal experiences of it.
Just ask a family law solicitor what the disintegration of a marriage can be like, or recall the pain of office politics, or a neighbourhood struggle to the death over property boundaries.
Perhaps the Christmas dinner table — supposedly a moment of family togetherness — will be another round of the decades-long war ­between those two aunties of yours.
A dying man once said to me: “I’ve prayed for peace on earth for 60 years. Why does it never happen?”
However much we hope and pray for peace on earth, it seems frustratingly elusive.
One problem is that when we try to make peace, we do so by finding a winner and loser.
Inevitably, one side slinks off in bitter resentment, and the hostilities resume.
Is the Christmas declaration of peace empty, since we human ­beings seem so addicted to fighting one ­another?
The Bible has a very particular ­diagnosis of why this is so. Our lack of peace with one another is a symptom of our lack of peace with God.
And it gives us that profound sense in ourselves that we are not at peace.
What’s the remedy?
We need to understand what Christ was about, for without him, the Christmas spirit proves to be nothing but a ghost. We’ll come to that in a moment, but first we need to understand what the Bible means by “peace”, or “shalom”.

MORE: These are what real Christmas miracles look like

It’s worth using that wonderful Hebrew word, which Jews use as a greeting because it’s a much richer word than our word “peace”. (Arabic speakers say “salaam”, which is the same word.)
Shalom is not simply the cessation of hostilities.
Shalom is when everything is in harmony with God, and so with everything else.
Shalom means that everything and everyone in the creation is doing what it’s made to do, playing its part like the players in a great orchestra producing beautiful music.
Shalom is the way everything is supposed to be. The divine vision for peace is not just universal, it involves the universe.
And shalom on earth — the Christmas good news — begins when there is an armistice between human beings and God. That’s where Christ, the Prince of Peace, comes in. What is it that he does to bring shalom?
Peace with God comes because the Prince of Peace reconciles us to God on the cross.
His victory does not mean our ­defeat; but he makes his victory our victory too. In himself he has ­absorbed human hostility against God, and now a truce has been ­declared. And what are the terms? Do we have to pay?
At end of World War I, Germany was forced to pay reparations to the value of $US33 billion.
It was a crushing burden that contributed to the rise of Nazism and the bloodbath of World War II.
But even though we are the rebels against God, it is not we who pay for the peace.
The Prince of Peace bears the cost himself, in himself, so that God’s peace — his shalom — may be ours.
And it’s not just peace that he brings, it’s shalom: that deep experience of the harmony of all things with their creator and between all things.
And through all this, you and I are invited into a deep experience of God’s shalom.
To know it in ourselves — “the peace which passes all understanding” as the New Testament calls it.
If we know truly that God’s peace in Jesus Christ — the Christmas shalom — and invite it into our very souls, we will become God’s agents for peace in a troubled world.
Peace on earth begins with the piece of earth on which you stand.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus. It is not just up to the diplomats and politicians.
It’s too easy to blame them for war while we fail to recognise the conflict and unrest of our own lives.
Bringing about shalom is something that can start with us and in us.
If we really want to see a bit of Christmas cheer, we can seek to make peace a reality on Earth — in our families, in our neighbourhoods, and in our workplaces, as well as between nations.

Michael Jensen is the rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church Darling Point and the author of My God, My God — Is it Possible to Believe Anymore?
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Don’t argue with the Devil – he’s much more intelligent than us, says Pope Francis

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The Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals and should never be argued with, Pope Francis has warned.

Satan is not a metaphor or a nebulous concept but a real person armed with dark powers, the Pope said in forthright remarks made during a television interview.

“He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person. I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan – if you do that, you’ll be lost,” he told TV2000, a Catholic channel, gesticulating with his hands to emphasise his point.

“He’s more intelligent than us, and he’ll turn you upside down, he’ll make your head spin.

“He always pretends to be polite – he does it with priests, with bishops. That’s how he enters your mind. But it ends badly if you don’t realise what is happening in time. (We should tell him) go away!” he said.

Pope Francis frequently refers to the Devil in his homilies, sermons and on Twitter, where he is followed by 40 million people in nine languages.

He uses various terms to refer to the Prince of Darkness, including Satan, the Evil One, the Seducer, Beelzebub and the Great Dragon.

“It’s a Jesuit thing. He’s a Jesuit who is deeply imbued with the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, which allow people to discern the movements of the good and bad spirit,” said Austen Ivereigh, a Vatican analyst and the author of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.

Three years ago the Argentinian pontiff told a convention of exorcists from around the world that they were doing sterling work in combating “the Devil’s works”.

He said that exorcists needed to show “the love and welcome of the Church for those possessed by evil”.

In 2013, during an address to crowds of faithful in St Peter’s Square, he said the Devil often appears “disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us.”

He shares stories about the Devil’s devious ways when he gives his daily homilies in the chapel of the guesthouse where he lives inside the Vatican.

Last week Pope Francis called for the wording of the Lord’s Prayer to be changed so that it blames the Devil, rather than God, for “leading us into temptation”.

The Pope has warned that the Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals.
The Pope has warned that the Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals. Credit: EPA

He said the prayer had been badly translated from the Greek used in the New Testament and the new version would better reflect its true meaning.

The life of a Christian is a continual battle against evil, the Pope has said.

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Taken from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/13/dont-argue-devil-much-intelligent-us-says-pope-francis/